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Kanchanaburi

Written on: Tuesday March 4th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Not wanting to fester any longer in Bangkok I made good use of my time before flying out to Burma, and took a mid-morning bus west to Kanchanaburi, famous for its ?Bridge Over the River Kwai?. Quite a relaxing, laid back, sleepy town it masks the horror of the history it has seen.

 

Not having much time in the town I immediately set out to the Thailand ? Burma Railway Centre which poignantly tells the story of the Japanese constructed railway line that as the named suggests was built from Thailand north, 415km up in to Burma. The Japanese began constructing the line in June 1942 using over 60,000 British, Australian, Dutch and American captured soldiers, and over 200,000 conscripted Asian labourers. Of these almost 120,000 of them died while working on the line, most of them through malaria, cholera and through the hideous, inhumane treatment by the Japanese officers.

 

The following day I first visited one of the highlights of Thailand in my opinion, the Erawan National Park, which has seven stunning tiered waterfalls leading up a steep hill, and then in the afternoon some historical landmarks of the River Kwai Railway. I arrived in the National Park, very early, before most package visitors had arrived and started the beautiful climb up towards the seventh tier. At each fall there was a pool deep enough to bathe in, but I thought I?d wait until I made it to the seventh. I arrived at the highest fall that gives the National Park its name, Erawan, from the Hindu three-headed elephant that the rockface was said to resemble. I didn?t see it, however it was a fantastic view, with the sun streaming through the trees above. With nobody around I stripped off and, it must be said, as the water was pretty cold, I couldn?t see the bottom and there were lots of fish, apprehensively but bravely jumped in. Before I made this leap of faith I had stood on the rocks contemplating the dive with my ankles covered in the water. Several little fish had come up nibbling at the cuts on my right foot, almost sensing blood as the Cleaner Fish had done when I was diving in Ko Tao a few days earlier. It wasn?t too painful, more a bit of a tickle. When I dived in to the plunge pool I found that the water was just shallow enough for me to stand on the limestone basin, with my head above the water and walk up towards the falls themselves, which in Davidoff aftershave commercial style, I planned to sit underneath. Just as I arrived, a fish either a whole lot bigger than the tiddlers that had nipped me earlier, or with piranha-sharp teeth took a bite at a healing mosquito bite on the back of my right calf. I darted forward, only to get a second much deeper full-on bite on my leg that felt like it had taken from the knee down clean off. I got the hell out of the water quick smart and examined my now bleeding leg. I suppose I should thank my lucky stars it was just my leg it decided to bite and not any other appendages.

 

After lunch, where once again I misplaced my camera leaving it behind at the restaurant, we were dropped at Hellfire Pass, a huge valley that had been cut through the rock by the POW?s during the Second World War while constructing the railway line. Thankfully my guide had remained behind at the restaurant and had phoned ahead to say she had my camera, not that I had even realised I had lost it. I kicked myself that I wasn?t going to be able to get any pictures of Hellfire Pass, but once there was sort of glad I didn?t have it. The pass itself, that had been cut 18 metres down in to the rock gave me a picture of what the Valley of Death might look and feel like. It had that macabre, morbid air to it so very similar to the S21 Khmer Rouge prison in Phnom Penh and Ground Zero in New York. The pass takes its name from the lights that used to emanate from it as the POW?s were forced to work through the night in breaking through the rock. In such a place that if you ever come to Thailand I thoroughly recommend that you come and visit, a place that as I walked down I was continuously pestered by flies tormenting each of my feet in turn, but who eerily and sinisterly disappeared when I walked through the pass, it both astounds me and angers me that one group in particular did not sense any of this, and instead of remaining respectfully quiet, reading the plaques and capturing the deathly, sad atmosphere of the place, they hopped around the pass taking ridiculous photos of one another, posing with most inappropriate gestures. These weren?t young people either, but a couple in their mid-30?s maybe, who seemed uneducated in to what this place was and meant to the people that had somehow survived it. It was here I was glad that fate had destined me not to have in my possession my camera as it is a place that needs to be experienced for one?s self, not seen through a set of photographs.

 

I continued further south and was looking forward to a ride on the railway itself where I met my guide once more who returned me my camera. I was a little disappointed though, as the train was packed out and I spent almost the whole journey standing up between two carriages praying that they weren?t going to uncouple. Once at the end of the short trip we visited the main attraction I suppose, the Bridge over the River Kwai, or one that had been repaired at least (the original was bombed by the Allies in 1944 and 1945 as you will know if you?ve seen the classic David Lean film of the same name).

 

I headed back to the very comfortable and inviting Jolly Frog Guesthouse, that has a spacious garden complete with hammocks that look out at the sunset over the River Kwai itself, grabbed some dinner, admired my wounds on my leg and smugly sat back to watch a movie on my new toy in the comfort of my own room.